World War II: Technology and Tactics--Radio and Electronics

World War II electronics
Figure 1.--Wireless was developed just before World War I. It was the height of technology after the War. American boys were fascinated with the technology. The boy here has builtavery ipressive crystal set about 1920. America developed a whole new industry. The United States at the time of World War II had the largest radio industry in the world, producing huge quantities of radios and related equipment. The United states also had the largest elreical power industyry in the world. The United states did not, however, engage in extensive research to develop military applications. Britain with a much smaller production capacity did purse research on military applications. It was one of many areas that made the Anglo-American Alliance a formidable military force. Even before Pearl Harbor, British research was being transferred to America where important corporations were gearing up for war production.

Wireless communications or radio was developed just before World War I. It only played, however, a minor role in the War. The role of electronics in World War II was very different. Radio and other electonics including sonar, radar, nvigational beams, and proximity played major roles in the War. Command and control is important in any military campaign. This is true whatever the combat environment. It is especially important in mobile warfare so a commander can direct fast moving mechanized units. And of course radio gave commenmders just such a capability. Only the Germans at the onset of the war had fully thought this through and had a military force prepared to operate with modern command and control methods. Radios were an important part of that, but not the only electronic equipment which appeared on the battlefield. Radar was a key element leading to the British victory in the Battle of Britain. Part of the Battle of Britain was the less well publicized Battle of the Beams. Both radar and sonar were vital in the Battle of the Atlantic. Germany's industry, however, was not capable of fully equipping their army with needed weapons, including radios, and other electronic equipment. German scientists invented a range of weapons that the country's industry could not produce in large enough quantities to affect the War. Britain was the only country to begin the War with a fully mechanized army. And America was the only country with the industrial base and resources to produce the implements of war, including electronic equipment in the quantities required by its oen military as well as that of Allied countries. One important area was electronics. The America radio industry provided the basis for a huge output of radio equipment and other electronic equipment such as radar and sonar. Radio while it enable commanders to direct mobil units was also ingerently ensure. Thus signals intelligence became a vital aspect of the War. The Germans thought they solved this problem with their Enigma Machine. They were wrong. With signals intelligence the Allies proved much more adept than the Axis, although the Germans did have their successes as well.

World War I

Wireless communications or radio was developed just before World War I. It only played, however, a minor role in the War. The primary applications were in naval warfare. Naval ships were large enough that they could be equipped with large, bulky wireless equipment. Wireless technology did not advance fast enough to create small radio sets for field units.

Military Applications

The role of electronics in World War II was very different than the very limited role in World War I. Radio and other electonics including sonar, radar, naigational beams, and proximity played major roles in the War. Command and control is important in any military campaign. This is true whatever the combat environment. It is especially important in mobile warfare so a commander can direct fast moving mechanized units. And of course radio gave commenmders just such a capability. Only the Germans at the onset of the war had fully thought this through and had a military force prepared to operate with modern command and control methods which were required by their Blitkrieg tactical doctrine. Radios were an important part of that, but not the only electronic equipment which appeared on the battlefield. While radid gave the German Panzers a critical advantage in the Battle of France, it would be radar that would turn that advatage to the British in the Battle of Britain. The Germns began the War with many serious limittions (force size, industrial capacity, raw materials, and agricultural productivity), Hitler believed that surperior scientific and indistrial capabilities aswell as fighting spirit would in the war. It was not an optimistic sign for the Germans that they would be defeated by British technology when held most of the advatages. The Germansould develop impressive new weapons systems and technologies, but in the critical area of electonics it would be the Allies who would prevail. Especially when British technology was married to American industrial capacity.

Campaigns

Electronics equipment played a major role in several key World War II campaigns. Radar was a key element leading to the British victory in the Battle of Britain. Part of the Battle of Britain was the less well publicized Battle of the Beams. Both radar and sonar were vital in the Battle of the Atlantic. Improved sonar and radar helped find German U-boats. American minaturization and mass production of British developed cavitrons helped to put radars on Allied aircraft that were able to track down German U-boats throughout the North Atlantic. Electronics also played a major role on the Pacific War and was an area that America in part because of British technology had a huge lead over the Japanese. The proximity fuse played a major role in increasing the accuracy od naval antiaircraft fire. Mass production of radio equipment gave American infantry a level of artillery and air support unprcedented in warfare when it finally came to grips with the Wehrmacht.

Radio Broadcasts/Messages

Some of the most important radio broacasts/messages of history were made during World War II. This includeed both military messages and broadcasts by leaders. Few broadcasts in the television era have matched the World War II radio broacasts. Perhaps the most importnt military message was the weather reports that allowed Group Captain James Stagg the ability to inform Gen. Eisenhower that there would be a brief window of good weather allowing the Allies to land in Normandy on June 6, 1944. Other important military broadcasts include the fake water outage Midway broadcast that allowed Station Hypo to reliably inform Adm. Nimitz that Midway was the Japanese target. An intercepted Japanese message enabled American aviators to intercept and shoot down Adm. Yamanoto who had planned the Pearl Harbor attack. The message sent by British double agent Garbo (Joan Pujol Garcia) informing the Abwehr that the allies were landing in Normandy was another important message. He not only left the Germans no time to react, but managed and added that it was a diversionary attack. This was very importabt in the success of D-Day because the Germans left many Panzer division in the Pas de Calais awaiting Gen. Ptaton and the fictious FUSAG force. Incredably he managed to convince OKW and Hitler. The Germans even awarded him a Iron Cross. Also important was Air Marshal Harris informing the Germans that they had 'sewed the wind and will reap the wirlwind'. As for broadcasts by political leaders, several stand out. Hitler's address to the Reuchstag mocking President Roosevelt's request that he guarantee the security if a long list of countries that he and Stalin would subsequntly invade. The Reichstag and Göring roared in laughter. He then blamed the Jews for any war which would result and warned that it would result in their destruction. Unlike Churchill and Roosevelt, Hitler spoke less and less after he and Stalin launched the War. Propaganda Minister Goebbels became increasing the radio voice of NAZI Germany. His Total War speech after Stalingrad is his most noted. Churchill was a masterful orator with a an unsurpassed command of the English language. He made several memorable broadcasts, includung the 'what kind of preople do they think we are' and the 'never have so many owed so much to so few' speeches. President Roosevelt was another gifted orator. Here his Arsenl of Democracy, Pearl Harbor, and D-Day addresses stand out. Stalin in contrast was not an efectivec orator and is best known for the speech he did not give. Unlike President Roosevelt, Stalin was stupified on hearing of the German invasion--even though he had been warned by both Churchill and Roosevelt as well as his own intelignce services. Rather than speak to the nation he withdrew to his dacca and fell into a deep drepression. He did not speak to the Soviet people for 2 weeks (July 3, 1941). Also notable is Gen. DeGulle's brodcast from London launching the resistance movement. And of course there is the final broadcast of the War. Emperor Hirohito spoke to the an astonished Japanese people who had never heard his voice before. They were living in cities that had been reduced to glowing cinders and were informed by the Emperorv that 'the war situation has developed not necessarily to Japan's advantage'.

The Resistance

Radio changed the nature of warfare, giving a tremendous advatage to the offensive. Advance elemets no longer lost contact with commanders. It also changed the nature of popaganda. Occupying powers no longer had a monopoly on information. And it changed the possibilities for resistance. Individuals were ble to obtain accurate information on the War. After the fall of France (June 1940), the BBC's Radio London broadcasting in different languages became a beacon of hope for the oppressed people living under NAZI rule throughout the continent, the major source of information about the War and resistance to the Germans. It soon became very dangerous to listen to foreign radio broadcasts, both in Germany and occupied countries. This is one reason that the Germans even before the War took radios away from Jews. Churcgill after the fall of France hit upon the idea of setting Europe aflane through the resistance. This was impossible because of the German grip on the continent and vast secuity operation. The resistance could and did play an important role in the Soviet and Allied war effort. A key aspect of totalitarian rule is controlling infomtion. It was an important part of the NAZI dictatorship in Germany and the Germans cought to replicate this in their expanding empire. It thus became a serious crime to listen to foreign broadcasts. Radio also increased the capabilities of the resistance. As German rule became increasingly oppresive and as the Soviets and Allies began to reverse the Axis tide, resistance begn to grow. And radio provided a means for the soviets and Allies to easily communicate with resistance groups that the Axis powers could not interupt, although code breaking was a problem. Communication in the other direction werre far more dangerous, but a vitlm part of the Allied effort ahainst the Axis. Axis response to the resistance was brutal and given the highly urban environment of Western Europe (unlike the Soviet Union and Yugoslvia), armed resistance was virtually impossible. The major objective of the resistance in the West became preparation of th Cross-Channel invasion, essentially reporting on German preparations and troop movements and orders for the resistance to prepare and support the invasion. Sending such messages in German occupied areas was dangerous because the Germans could detect and locate sending stations. As the invsion would come in France, it was the French resitance that becme key to the Western Allies.

Country Trends

Hitler before the War pushed the production of inexpensive radio sets for workers. It was a similar effort to the Volkswagen. Unlike America, many German workers did not have radios. The German elctronics industry was the lrgest in Europe. Even so, it was much smaller than American industry. Germany's industry, however, was not capable of fully equipping their army with needed weapons, including radios, and other electronic equipment. German scientists invented a range of weapons that the country's industry could not produce in large enough quantities to affect the War. They also reserarched radar, but attached much less importance to it than the British who were more concerned with defend against aerial bombardment. Britain attached much more importbce to SONAR than was aranted by the level of the existing technology. With the outbreak of the War, the British launched a crash program to improve both SONAR ad RADAR equioment. Britain was the only country to begin the War with a fully mechanized army. And America was the only country with the industrial base and resources to produce the implements of war, including electronic equipment in the quantities required by its oen military as well as that of Allied countries. One important area was electronics. The America radio industry provided the basis for a huge output of radio equipment and other electronic equipment such as radar and sonar.

Signals Intelligence

Radio while it enable commanders to direct mobil units was also ingerently ensure. Thus signals intelligence became a vital aspect of the War. The Germans thought they solved this problem with their Enigma Machine. They were wrong. With signals intelligence the Allies proved much more adept than the Axis, although the Germans did have their successes as well.







HBC







Navigate the Boys' Historical Clothing Web Site:
[Return to Main World War II technology/tactics page]
[About Us]
[Aftermath] [Biographies] [Campaigns] [Children] [Countries] [Deciding factors] [Diplomacy] [Geo-political crisis] [Economics] [Home front] [Intelligence]
[POWs] [Resistance] [Race] [Refugees] [Technology] [Totalitarian powers]
[Bibliographies] [Contributions] [FAQs] [Images] [Links] [Registration] [Tools]
[Return to Main World War II page]
[Return to Main war essay page]
[Return to CIH Home page]





Created: 6:37 AM 9/23/2012
Last updated: 4:57 AM 3/7/2016